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Is Coleus Toxic to Cats? Common Houseplants Examined

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	Dr. Lorna Whittemore Photo

Reviewed & Fact-Checked By

Dr. Lorna Whittemore


The information is current and up-to-date in accordance with the latest veterinarian research.

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Even if you don’t know it, you probably have seen beautiful coleus plants in people’s homes and gardens. These colorful plants are common staples because of their beauty, but that doesn’t mean they’re completely safe. The oils in coleus leaves can actually be dangerous to cats, and it’s important to watch your cats to prevent poisoning.

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What is Coleus?

Coleus amboinicus is a very common indoor and outdoor plant known by many names. It’s recognizable for its serrated, teardrop-shaped, or almond-shaped leaves that are often bright and showy. Many varieties of coleus have patterns of purple, yellow, and green on their leaves that make them stand out in a garden.

Depending on your climate and home, these plants may be indoor or outdoor and annual or perennial. It’s also common to “overwinter” coleus plants, planting them outdoors for most of the year and transferring them to indoor pots during the coldest months of the year.

Common names for Coleus plants:
  • Bread and butter plant
  • Country borage
  • East Indian thyme
  • Indian borage
  • Spanish thyme
  • Stringing thyme

Causes of Coleus Poisoning

a cat that feels sick and seems to vomit
Image Credit: chie hidaka, Shutterstock

Coleus is known for its beautiful leaves, but those leaves also produce an irritating essential oil that can cause poisoning in people, cats, and dogs. Contact poisoning happens when the skin comes into contact with coleus. It’s less common in cats because of their protective fur coats but can still occasionally occur. Signs of contact poisoning include a rash, redness, irritation, and itchy or painful skin. You might also see these signs on your cat’s tongue, gums, and lips along with excessive drooling if your cat nibbles on coleus or grooms itself after getting the oils on its fur.

Gastrointestinal irritation occurs when your cat eats coleus as well. This happens when the oils in the plant irritate the digestive system. This can include vomiting, diarrhea, stomach pain, and occasionally bloody stool or vomit. According to the ASPCA, depression and anorexia are also possible symptoms of coleus poisoning.

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Coleus and Essential Oil Poisoning

Essential oils are dangerous to cats, whether they are an irritant or not, as these oils can’t be processed by cats. Because of this, some sources suggest that liver damage, difficulty breathing, or seizures are possible symptoms. Although cats are in danger from all types of essential oil exposure, we couldn’t find any reliable sources linking the oils in coleus to these more extreme symptoms.

Treatment and Prevention

dedicated plant room to keep away from cats
Image Credit: Unsplash

If you own indoor coleus plants, keep them out of reach of cats for safekeeping. Because most cats aren’t particularly interested in coleus when given the choice, outdoor plants are usually safe unless your cat shows special interest in them.

Most of the symptoms of coleus poisoning are mild, and most gastrointestinal symptoms and skin irritation can be monitored at home. However, if your cat eats several leaves of the plant or shows serious symptoms of poisoning, contact a vet immediately. These symptoms include bloody stool or vomit, seizures, difficulty breathing, or difficulty moving.

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Last Thoughts

Coleus is a beautiful plant, but it’s best to be cautious around it because of the dangerous oils. Skin and intestinal irritation are painful and potentially dangerous side effects of contact with coleus, and so it’s important to protect your cat from these dangers.

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Featured Image Credit: Alexei, Pixabay